The 25th Australia Day Breakfast for the City of Whittlesea
I was honoured with an invitation to give an Australia Day address for the City of Whittlesea. Here it is:
City of Whittlesea
23rd Australia Day Breakfast
Good morning, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. It is a privilege to be here with you at the City ofWhittlesea’s 25th Australia Day Breakfast.
I would particularly like to thank Tom Love and the members of their Australia Day Celebrations Committee, for inviting me here today.
For this Australia Day talk, I thought I should firstly bring into focus some of those things that have given me a sense of place, the sense of a physical, geographic place and to belonging to this wonderful country, growing up as a post war baby boomer.
After that, I would like to raise three concerns I have for Australia as we venture forward as a nation into the 21st century.
Finally, to end on an optimistic note, I would like to confirm the confidence I have for our future as a nation and as a people.
Sense of place
I grew up in Sandringham on Port Phillip Bay, and spent a wonderful childhood free to explore the ti-tree bushland, beach and sea. The backdrop to this playground was the distant, and to me mysterious, You Yang mountains looming out of the sea over the western horizon. The You Yangs were the stage for many sunsets, my Hesperides, that mythical place of the Ancient World where nymphs tended a blissful garden in a far western corner of the world, behind which the sun disappeared.
My parents had the wisdom, when I was six, to buy me The Australia Book, written by Eve Pownall, and beautifully illustrated by Margaret Senior, and published in 1956. Looking at it again this last week, the images reminded me of an indelible picture of our continent and the nature of its gradual exploration and development. Above all, it gave me a sense of Australia’s vastness and the extraordinary imagination, hard work and creative struggle that was required by the English, and all those that followed, to tame and civilize it.
Having also been made acutely aware, through the illustrations in the book, of the ancient Aboriginal presence before European settlement, I was very struck much later on, indeed overwhelmed, by reading the original 1852 account of the Life and Adventures of William Buckley. The more recent Buckley’s Hope by Melbourne writer Craig Robertson, vividly filled in many of the details of Buckley’s life.
These books describe the extraordinary life of William Buckley, an escaped convict, who lived with the Wuthowurong tribe between the Bellarine Peninsula and Lake Bolac.
The remarkable feature of the story is that Buckley lived with this tribe for thirty two years, until the arrival of Henry Batman at Indented Head in August, 1835, just before the settlement of Melbourne. The story provides a powerful account of the political, cultural and social atmosphere in the very places I knew so well, before any hint of a European presence. Thus, in my own mind, I had always had a strong sense of the physical place I was growing up in and the “spirit” of the Aborigines that had gone before.
Trips to Sydney on the Daylight Express conjured up exotic place names like Wagga Wagga, Bethungra, Cootamundra, Gunning, Mittagong, Jugiong, Tumblong. Even now, on this visit to South Moran, I notice the place names here — Yarrambat, Yan Yean, Bundoora, Kurrack: all Aboriginal place names of course. It is they that also give me a deeper sense of belonging to an ancient land.
Whilst I have happily internalised these suggestive elements of Aboriginal culture permanently etched in our landscape, for some reason I intuitively revolt against what appears to be the overbearing, political correct zealotry of our cultural tsars that want to impose “Aboriginal culture” on our universities.
Similarly, I find it saddening and counterproductive that the cowardly term “racism” is already being used by members of the expert panel on the constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians towards those who disagree with their recommendations.
Landscape and Canberra
Between Christmas and New Year my wife and I went on a trip to Canberra. With the rains, I have to say the countryside has never looked better. The maddeningly sweet and graceful hills around Gundagai are always delightful, with the nestled river flats an impossible emerald green.
The space, the light, the weary lush freshness of our country reminds me of that wonderful expression Australia Felix, the name of a painting by Arthur Streeton. Australia Felix, ‘fortunate Australia’, ‘happy Australia’, captures the spirit of so many of our early, wistful, dreamy colonial paintings.
In Canberra, we visited the old and new parliament houses. It is here that one is forced to reflect on our history, our identity, and our institutions of decision making as a nation.
The most striking and warmly encouraging thing I witnessed in the new Parliament House was the number of Indian and Asian visitors teaming through the building, full of enthusiasm and curiosity. Dare I imagine this as some sort of pilgrimage?
The Indians clearly have a deeply ingrained understanding of parliamentary democracy and were there to learn about their new country. Some of the Chinese, according to parliamentary staff I talked to, were overwhelmed that they were allowed to simply walk into and around the very building at the centre of power and decision making in this country. I confess I was a little emotionally choked up and very moved at this willingness and desire of these new Australians to feel and be a part of our great country.
In this context, I come to my first concern for our future.
The duty of any government is protect our sovereignty and borders. It is surely frustrating when one political party is obstinately in denial about what has clearly worked in the past to deter refugee boats, and also frustrating when the other party does not send an unhesitating and emphatic bipartisan signal to an activist High Court that arrogantly thwarts the will of the parliament and the people.
Immigration, whilst related but distinctly different, is another aspect of this first concern. When reflecting on what can and cannot be said about whom we welcome to Australia, and what expectations we have of those who wish to settle here, I note in passing that France, from the 1st of January this year, is toughening requirements for French nationality with a strong focus on assimilation.
In Australia, we welcome new immigrants, and I for one, want to continue welcoming new immigrants. But if Australia is so sought after, and indeed internationally is amongst the most generous of immigrant nations, why do we welcome new immigrants with seemingly so very few obligations?
At the same time, our political elites — with no good reason — want to broaden the Racial Discrimination Act to enhance multiculturalism, and to find gaps in protections of ethnic minorities from racial vilification. I hope this does not encourage those like the Waverly City Council in Sydney, which actually banned the flying of our Australian flag on the iconic Bondi Beach Pavilion for being “racially divisive”.
The second issue that I would like briefly to touch on, and which shall soon, I believe, eclipse all other problems, is that of the impending global financial meltdown.
Any sensible reading of international commentary gives one the overwhelming impression that Western political leaders are in total denial about our debt problems, and are in fact truly paralysed and incapable of any sensible action that reduces their urge to spend and borrow.
Whilst Australia, up until now, has been in an enviable position, both our main parties seem incapable of any semblance of fiscal rectitude. Both our parties have a marked propensity to indulge our growing “entitlement culture” which leads us to ever larger government, mushrooming regulation and control over our lives. Mark Steyn calls it a “decadence and moral softening”.
For my final concern, I would like to briefly look at a pet issue that I have been writing about for nearly 20 years. I was brought up, like one of our most famous expatriate poets and writers, Clive James, on that wonderful poem by Dorothea Mackellar, My Country.
Like James, I was surprised at just how few of our politicians and journalists have understood Mackellar’s poem. Slowly, the meme of “droughts and flooding rains” has returned, after the arrival of the Brisbane floods and the breaking of yet another regular, predictable drought. Ask any farmer outside the Melbourne Sydney Canberra triangle. However, undeterred, Tim Flannery, our highly paid Climate Change Commissioner, toured the county with an apocalyptic vision of our major cities running out of water.
James dryly comments:
“[Flannery] always had an explanation, and the media always liked his story best, because it was a story about Australia eventually and inevitably running out of water … Then an awful lot of it fell on his head at once and he was finally seen to be short of credibility.”
Nothing in my education had suggested that the weather would be anything different. Outraged at the stupidity of failed climate models, I posted Mackellar’s poem over a year ago on my blog. I thanked her posthumously for her “rigorous historical documentation of climate change, written before any real increases in industrial atmospheric carbon dioxide, and before our modern, scientific understanding of the Indian Ocean Dipole or the El Nino Southern Oscillation”.
Why have so many good people — our scientists, our politicians, our journalists been so silly and so wrong headed? Given that we are celebrating Australia Day, how can we have forgotten the Federation Drought and those that followed. I have a photo at home of a completely dry Murray river bed taken 50 kilometres upstream of Swan Hill at Riversdale, on New Year’s Day, 1914. It shows a bullock cart crossing the dusty dry river bed. What happened to our collective memory of droughts and flooding rains?
Certainly our experts at the CSIRO failed that test miserably. Then again, what would they know about real science? This august scientific organisation is today mandating the use of Aboriginal smoking ceremonies to cleanse each new CSIRO laboratory of “evil spirits”!
The topic of climate change is long, technical and complex. However, when scientists get their predictions so wrong, when the IPCC, through its Climategate emails demonstrated that this United Nations body — hello?— is cheating and tricking the figures, when its much acclaimed “Hockey Stick” graph showing runaway catastrophic global warming turns out to be a scientific fraud — and then subsequently quietly buried — when over 30 per cent of the latest IPCC report turns out not to be peer reviewed but sourced directly from activist green pamphlets, one has to ask; if this is real science, why do so many people make up so much stuff that turns out to be hopelessly wrong?
Why does the presenter of the ABC Science Show, Robyn Williams, shamelessly claim the impossibility that sea levels could soon rise by 100 metres? Why was Al Gore’s film found, by none other than the British High Court, to be so scientifically incorrect that it had to come with a warning to schools that the film amounted to propaganda? Of course, this shoddy piece of agitprop is still being shown in schools aroundAustralia. The litanies of alarmist press releases and urgent new warnings continue unabated in the media, topped of course by our shameless ABC.
I promised to finish on an optimistic note. Notwithstanding the present hiatus in good, visionary leadership in Australia, I firmly believe in our strong democratic traditions and the common sense of Australia’s people. I always think back to the 1988 Referendum, which invited us to vote ‘Yes’ on four questions. Supported by both parties and most of the media, the Australian people, smelling a rat with such collusion, gave all four of the propositions a resounding ‘No’, with their collective upturned finger. That reassured me immensely about Australian democracy, our plain ordinary, reliable common sense.
On the first of these issues I mentioned above, Refugees and Immigration, I believe the pendulum is turning and we will regain sensible control. On the financial crisis it is clear that simply no one knows exactly what will happen. I can only suggest we all sing together, Que sera, sera! On climate change, there are many signs over the last two years that the game is up for this the biggest and most costly fraud in human history. But don’t expect apologies, from anyone.
For Australia, as I said, I have never forgotten that lesson about the strength of the people’s voice to make practical decisions in spite of our political elites, and it gives me great confidence inAustralia’s future.
May I wish you all a very happy Australia Day and a radiant and optimistic future. .